Jewish Values and Social Media – Meta Converastion!

This is cross-posted from Miriam Brosseau’s "Clips and Phrases" Tumbler.

Here’s the current state of a conversation about social media and Jewish values happening on my Facebook profile. What would you add?

Ok, everybody – favorite Jewish values and/or texts that could potentially relate to social media. And…go!

(Whaddya think, Anita Salzman Silvert, David Paskin, Rabbi Jason Miller, Elizabeth Wood, Carrie Bornstein, Arnie Samlan? Others?)

Elizabeth Wood Al Tifrosh min hatzibur – Do not separate yourself from the community (i.e. figure out always how to keep yourself connected!)

Irene Lehrer Sandalow Al Tifrosh Min Hatsibur. Social Media makes sure stay you connected to your community.

Miriam Brosseau Whoah, Elizabeth and Irene, you are totally on the same wavelength… and it’s a great call, thanks!

Isaac Shalev Emor me’at ve’aseh harbeh – say little and do lots – should be Twitter’s mission statement

Sara Shapiro-Plevan I’d say that “im ein ani li, mi li” and the rest of that mishna speaks beautifully to the fact that we are nodes in a larger network and not just in relationship with ourselves. Also, Pirke Avot ch. 6 talks about drawing close to colleagues and students, not separating one’s self from community, knowing and contributing to the knowledge of others, and sharpening others’ knowledge as well.

Carrie Bornstein Sara – you JUST beat me to it!

Carrie Bornstein If I am not for myself, who will be for me? (Have a voice in the online world – make your presence known.) If I am only for myself, what am I? (Engage your community – advocate on behalf of others) If not now, when? (Just do it – act in the moment.)

Anita Salzman Silvert I would add the whole Lashon Ha-rah issue. Just using some of the text in a little presentation on the jewish values found in “The Music Man” …think pick a little talk a little…!

Carrie Bornstein Eizeh hu chacham? HaLomed miKol Adam. Who is wise? The one who learns from all others. 

Naomi Malka Da Lifnei Mi Ata Omed—be mindful of your values wherever you go and whatever you say in cyberspace.

Yehudit Batya Shrager The essence of tsniut is being independent of the good opinion of other people. (For the DL on tsniut read “Outside/Inside” by Gila Manolson.) In other words, know what to share and what to keep to yourself and do not define yourself based on how many “friends/followers” you have or how many people “like,” your status updates.

Phil Liff-Grieff malbin panav- it is important to remember that one’s words have serious ripples (sort of a riff on the lashon ha-ra thread….)

Arnie Samlan What about the whole concept of a minyan? That there is a tipping point at which enough human-social energy gathers.

Lisa Narodick Colton Wow, this is great. I’ll add tzimtzum — needing to contract oneself to make room for others to create. good for community guidelines — don’t be a conversation hog.

Larry Brown Excellent topic, Miriam! I believe Pirkei Avot says to find a Rabbi/Teacher and sit at his feet and study. The whole concept of the Oral Torah is that one cannot truly understand Torah simply by reading text, one must learn from others. That is why our ancestors were so reluctant to write it down. Interactive social media can be seen as another way of learning from others.

Paul Wieder Pirsumei Nisah— from Chanukah. Want everyone to know about a miracle? Put it in the window!
“Who is wise? The one who learns from all”- Pirkei Avot
Arba Kanfot— the idea that, while Jews are spread to the “four corners” of the world, we are united.
“A father who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to steal.”— We are required to teach as well as learn, to pass on our knowledge.

Carrie Bornstein In case you haven’t seen it, this thread keeps reminding me of this: http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?q=node%2F90054

Stanley Mieses Kol Yisroel and Derech Eretz. There is no them….only us.

Geoffrey Mitelman I’d add that in our ever-more-interconnected world, g’milut chasadim and tikkun olam are becoming more and more synonymous.

Why You Need to Embrace Relationship Based Engagement

Guest post from Rabbi Aaron Spiegel. This post is part of a series on networks and network weaving.

Synagogue 3000 just released a report entitled “Reform and Conservative Congregations: Different Strengths, Different Challenges.” The report could just as easily been entitled something like “Synagogues are Fading Into Obscurity,” but that would be a little too provocative. The data is clear; the institution best positioned to provide the full richness of Jewish life is becoming irrelevant for most American Jews. More disturbing is that our research shows some 70% of young Jewish adults, those between the ages of 23 and 39, have no connection to the established Jewish community (synagogues, Federation, JCC’s, etc.). While many in the Jewish world talk about Jewish continuity and protecting the future of American Judaism, most of the proposed solutions have had little effect. The good news is we’ve also learned that this majority of young Jews are very interested in Judaism, just not the way we’re offering it.

While most in the congregational world talk about outreach, Synagogue 3000 learned that this moniker has a negative connotation. Outreach says, albeit subtly, “I’m reaching out to you so you can come to me and have what I want to offer you.” The community, particularly those young, single Jews who are our potential future are saying, “no thanks.” Instead of outreach Synagogue 3000 changed the conversation to engagement. Learning from the church world and community organizing, Synagogue 3000 created Next Dor (dor is Hebrew for generation) – an engagement program. Participating synagogues agree to dedicate a staffer, most often a rabbi, whose primary job is to meet young Jews where they are – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. These engagement workers are charged with finding young Jews, be they in bars, coffee houses, local gyms, etc., and finding ways of engaging them in conversation to create relationships. Relationships create trust, which creates other relationships, which creates opportunity for real engaging conversations about life and what Judaism has to offer. One of the key points is that this engagement and these relationships are l’shma, for their own sake. Synagogue membership is not the goal – connecting Jews to Judaism is.

While the goal is engaging young Jews in Judaism, several of the Next Dor partner synagogues are discovering tangible benefits. Next Dor D.C., a project of Temple Micah was one of the first adopters. Rabbi Danny Zemel, a proponent of this engagement model before Next Dor existed, knew that Temple Micah needed to engage this unaffiliated and disaffected population. As a Next Dor pilot synagogue, Temple Micah hired Rabbi Esther Lederman as their engagement worker. A big part of Esther’s job is having one-on-one meetings with young Jews, usually in coffee shops. Now in its fourth year, Next Dor D.C. has gone from one-on-one meetings to regular Shabbat dinners at Esther’s home to annual free High Holy Day services for young adults, led by Esther and Michelle Citrin. The results – young Jewish adults are joining Temple Micah.

Some have dubbed this approach “relational Judaism” which seems something of an oxymoron. Judaism is at its essence (at least in my opinion) all about relationships. Unfortunately, congregations have focused on other things like supporting infrastructure, b’nai mitzvah training, and programming. More than the first two, the focus on programming is the irrelevance linchpin. Rather than engaging Jews in what’s important in their lives, synagogues program based on anecdotal information. When numbers fall the default synagogue response is to seek better programming rather than forming relationships with members, finding out what’s really important in their lives, and being responsive to their needs. Interestingly enough, while Synagogue 3000 envisioned the relational approach targeting young Jewish adults, the Next Dor communities are discovering it works with everyone.

Is your synagogue willing to form relationships with people who might not become members? Is your rabbi really willing to “be known” by synagogue members? What are your biggest obstacles to moving from a program-based community to relationship-based? Relationships, it’s all about the relationships!

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is the CEO of Synagogue 3000. The report was the result of Synagogue 3000’s participation in FACT (Faith Communities Today), the largest and most comprehensive surveyor of faith communities in the United States.

 This post is part of a series on networks and network weaving that Darim Online is curating to advance the communal conversation about relationship focused Jewish communities.  Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting our research and this blog series.  Click here to see other related posts in the series.

Monday Web Favorites: The #Unselfie Campaign, Giving Effective Feedback, and “Be the Shamash”

It's time for our Monday web favorites, and there is much light to share over Chanukah…

First up: We love the #unselfie campaign! A bit of background…as of last year, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been declared "Giving Tuesday," to change the focus from buying and acquiring on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to giving back and thankfulness. (Fun fact, this was started by the folks at the 92Y in New York.) Meanwhile, the term "selfie" was chosen as the 2013 "word of the year." This year, Giving Tuesday added this cool #unselfie campaign, to get people taking pictures of themselves (or of their faces behind a sign they made) saying/showing what they're doing to give back. Taking and posting an #unselfie could be a great activity for a teen group, for a family to do together, for a synagogue staff to do as a group. It's quick and fun activity to help share the light at Chanukah, and tap into a broader online campaign/conversation.
 

And our next selection: Another great opportunity has come up for tomorrow, this one on the professional development side. The talented  and vivacious Deborah Grayson Riegel is offering a free teleconference on giving effective feedback, Dec. 3rd, 2-3pm Eastern. Click here for details and to sign up.
 

Finally: We've got one more example of a lovely campaign we wanted to share – Shira Kline, also known as Shirlala, is using the eight nights of Chanukah to run a "Be the Shamash" (the candle that lights all the other candles on the menorah) campaign. It's a great example of using your social media to highlight that sweet spot where the things you care about and the things that matter to your community come together and shine. Hosting these kinds of mini-campaigns on your Page, or through any social media outlet, helps keep you at the front of your community's mind. That way, when you're ready to tell them about an event or other offer, they're already listening.

What have been your favorite things on the web recently? Share them in comments, or with Miriam through email, and they could appear here next week! Happy Chanukah, everyone!

Top image credit: GivingTuesday Facebook Page

Monday Web Favorites: Bob Dylan, Blended Learning, and Karaoke Havdalah

It’s video, video, video on this week’s edition of web favorites! Watch on…

  • Bob Dylan fans and media buffs, rejoice! The first official video for Dylan's classic song “Like a Rolling Stone” was just released, and Wired Magazine calls it “an interactive masterpiece.” The video allows viewers to flip through channels on a “television,” only every program features characters (many of whom you will recognize) lip-synching the words to the song. This format is strangely engaging, with its simultaneous retro and tech-forward feel. Take a break and flip channels. (Our take-away for Jewish communal professionals? It validates the many ways to engage with and experience "tradition" – no right or wrong, better or worse. For lack of a better analogy, this is a great embodiment of "peoplehood". There's something in here about the diversity and user control of the exploration…it's inviting. There's more to explore and learn here; as this technology develops, the cultural implications may get richer.)
     
  • On a different note, Jewish educator and technologist Russel Neiss recently created this provocative video combining a recent presentation on blended learning and B. F. Skinner’s 1954 “learning machine.” It’s worth watching with a colleague, not only for the content and the discussion it may spur, but as a great example of the power and implications of mashup culture: 

  • And finally, the latest work from the talented folks over at G-dcast, a Havdalah Karaoke video made in collaboration with Moishe House, is a visually and musically lovely way to close out Shabbat and welcome the new week. It's the first in a three-part series of similar videos. Not only might these videos be a useful tool for your community, but they're a great example of both an unlikely and beautiful collaboration, and how technology might help us be more welcoming in our communities for folks of all comfort levels with prayer and ritual. Enjoy, and have a great week!

Have web favorites you're dying to share? Let us know in the comments, or send them to Miriam via email and they may just show up here next week!

Four Lessons for Maturing Your Social Media Practice: Evidence from the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy

Over the past nine months, 20 day schools from around the country have been immersed in an intensive Academy to catapult their social media work – and strategic goals of their schools – forward.  The Academy combines training, coaching, project-based learning and peer networks to help schools develop a social media strategy, put it into action, and measure their results.

The three projects throughout the year – a social media experiment, social fundraising project (with matching funds from The AVI CHAI Foundation) and the drafting of a social media policy are intended to help schools work in purposeful and reflective ways, and then to see real results, beyond just likes and follows.

The following 4 lessons emerged from the participating schools as important themes in advancing their work, and we offer them in the hopes they help you as well.  Links go to blog posts by each school with further detail about their Academy experience.

1.  Content Content Content.  Knowing your goals, and the interest of your target audiences is critical for developing a content strategy.  Schools that previously talked all about themselves experimented with different types of content to see what resonated, with home, and how.

Shulamith School for Girls and  The Westchester Day School focused on re-engaging alumni.  Posting photos of classes from the 1970’s got many people reminiscing. People tagged their friends which brought more alumni to the page.  Some photos had dozens of comments and several shares, leveraging networks and re-energizing and reconnecting the alumni community.

Solomon Schechter School of Queens realized that people organized, intentional and reflective was the key to their success.  By creating a content calendar they were able to plan thoughtful and relevant content, and then measure the cause and effect of various approaches.  This practice built momentum on their Facebook Page which they were able to leverage throughout the Academy.

Some schools found great value in decentralizing content creation.  Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy now has several faculty members tweeting, sharing student adventures inside the school walls and around the world.  Carmel Academy realized their teachers were a great source of content, and the faculty was eager to provide stories and photograph events.

2.  It’s About People, Not Technology.  While the myriad of tools and their (seemingly rapidly evolving) functionality can seem dizzying at first, schools learned that social media is really human. It’s about connections, relationships, emotions and listening more than talking.

At the Robert M Beren Hebrew Academy, they learned this lesson through their social fundraising project.  They recognized the social part of social fundraising, and instead of just using a “social” platform to take online donations, they set up a system of ambassadors to help amplify their campaign, and reinforce that it’s about supporting the community, not just an institution.  “Our school transformed into a community of PR ambassadors and fundraisers within a matter of hours,” they reported.

Many schools learned through trial and error that people love content that they identify with, not only information that they find interesting.  When they identify with it, they comment, and even better, share with their own networks.  At the Lander Grinspoon Academy, they found that “people want to share posts that say something about themselves: their children are highlighted; their values are reflected; they have a reason to be proud of the school and community.”

3.  Demonstrate, Don’t Pontificate. Often our instincts are to market market market our schools. But demonstrating the real and authentic manifestation of the things you do well speaks volumes more.

At the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, they featured current students and alumni in their social fundraising campaign. The stories conveyed the mission, vision, culture and impact of their school and emotionally touched the viewers.  Their ‘fan fundraisers’ had powerful human interest stories to tell to their own networks, which brought in many new donors from outside their usual community of donors.

At the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School, prospective families (even those who had decided not to enroll, but were still fans of the Facebook Page) felt the benefits of the school.  Several schools reported an increase in total applications this year (without intentionally shifting any other recruitment efforts) and a few new families who enrolled specifically because of what they were seeing on Facebook.

4.  Build a Culture. Not a Billboard.   Online spaces are like any other. They have a culture, values, and social norms.  As the host of your spaces, it’s your responsibility to help set the tone.  Sometimes doing so can catalyze more conversation once people have some cues about tone, length, humor, etc.

The Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School realized that many of their parents weren’t on Facebook, for a variety of reasons.  One of their challenges was to show parents that Facebook can have real value for their lives, and is in fact “kosher”.  They recruited ambassadors and offered articles and training for parents who were just learning, all of which not only helped their social media efforts, but was an educational and relationship building experience in and of itself.

At the Lander Grinspoon Academy they set a goal of increasing the likes on their page and making it more participatory, communal space. At a major Hanukkah, instead of the typical announcement asking everyone to silence their cell phones, they began the assembly by asking everyone to get their cell phones out and like them on Facebook, and invited them to take and share photos of the evening.  It increased their likes by 40% in one day, and they soon had many comments on and shares of their content.

The 20 participating schools have progressed in leaps and bounds this year, and they have worked hard for it.  They attended webinars, pursued projects, met with their coaches, shared their progress and learning, and integrated their work into their school culture and operations.

You can do it too.  The next cohort of the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is now in formation.  Applications are being reviewed on a rolling basis now through the end of July.  Learn more at http://darimonline.org/jdsacademy201314.

 

Using Social Media to Strengthen Culture of Welcome

Temple Torah’s executive staff utilized Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp to strengthen the culture of welcome at our synagogue. Over 25 years, Temple Torah evolved from a seniors-only congregation to a full-service, multi-generational congregation. We now operate a pre-school and two after-school supplemental religious programs.

Our challenge is that there is a sense of bifurcation in the congregation and a lack of a  holistic sense of community. People in different segments of the congregation often express a “fee-for-service” mentality. Furthermore, many feel that the expenditure of financial and human resources on one segment of the community means that other segments will not get served. Older people often complain that “all this money is spent on young families who never come to synagogue.” Younger families complain that they don’t feel welcome in other segments of the congregation and that programs and services offered outside of the school wing are not relevant to their lives.  Our staff team sought to use social media as one tool to break down barriers and spark conversations online and offline that would increase the sense of community.

Initially, we sought to embark on this endeavor through short YouTube videos. We succeeded in making one video that re-oriented people to the main synagogue entrance in a post-Newtown, CT, concern for security.  We were unable to sustain the energy, creativity and commitment to produce more videos, so we switched gears to focusing on Temple Torah’s Facebook page. The page had been under-utilized and was overshadowed by Facebook groups run by various arms of the synagogue.

It took some time for us to find a groove where people would like and comment on the page. Pictures of events that were posted received positive attention, but event announcements might as well have been invisible. In March, we fine-tuned our efforts to revamp our Facebook page with a contest asking people to share the manner in which people are welcomed at their seder. Whoever received the most likes would receive a prize. It seemed like a good question that people could relate to, yet we received only minimal response.

A couple weeks later for Yom Haatzmaut, we discovered a secret sauce: Constant Contact. We were able to drive much more traffic to the Facebook page by sending a Constant Contact email to the congregation, posing a question and directing them to the page. We received more lively online dialogue on why people love Israel.
 
boyton-beach.jpgHaving discovered Constant Contact as an effective means to drive traffic to the page, we then went right to the issue of creating a culture of welcome at the synagogue. People were asked to complete the sentence: “My first time being welcomed to Temple Torah was…,” and there was great response. One older congregant was bold enough to post that she didn’t feel so welcome, but I utilized this opportunity to reach out to her publicly and privately, and she appreciated that.  That same week, I gleaned from the discussion to deliver a “social sermon” on Shabbat, one in which congregants take part in the writing through their online comments before Shabbat. The sermon was then posted after Shabbat to allow the posting to continue.

For the rest of this spring, each member of our staff took a turn posting a question for discussion that was rooted in his or her area of expertise. The result is more traffic on our Facebook page and more interaction among different segments of our population. We hope to continue creative ways to drive traffic to the page, spark conversations and build real live relationships among our congregants.

Rabbi Ed Bernstein is the rabbi of Temple Torah in Boyton Beach, Florida.  He also blogs on The Huffington Post.  This year Temple Torah participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.

Surprisingly Easy to Quit My Synagogue

This blog is crossed posted from Living Lomed.

I belonged to a synagogue for twenty years. This year we made the decision not to rejoin. The reason? I was feeling less connected to a place that was putting control over choice. Concretely: Leadership would not permit the Shabbat morning prayer class I had attended for the past eight years to continue on a weekly basis. We could hold the class twice a month, but not every week.

Leadership's reason? "The main arena of the synagogue is the sanctuary. When other things are happening that takes attention away from that (even though the class was happening prior to services starting) it is a problem.” Like the Cantor said, "I went to a basketball game and everyone was talking or buying food. They weren't watching the game. That is what it is like here on Shabbat. Instead of people focusing on the main event they are distracted."

We did the process thing. I personally met with the rabbi. I explained why the weekly rhythm of coming together in prayer, Torah study, and story sharing was so important. I tried to convey that the ritualization of every week mattered in my life. I also said that as a member of the congregation I had a responsibility to give back. If there were additional ways I could volunteer, mentor or teach to contribute, I would do that but hoped we could continue our class.

Additionally, the twenty some people who attended the weekly class at 9 am met with the rabbi. They told their stories about how the Jewish teaching and sharing deeply impacted their lives. Men and women cried equally sharing the power the regular ritual had in their lives.

If it were a matter of money…of course we'd pay the salary of the teacher.

In the end, the clergy, and I'm not sure who else, decided NO.

They wanted more people to come to the sanctuary and not have too many side services or learning.

Holding so tightly is choking, not inviting.

I left. After much thought I couldn't reconcile being a member of a community that didn't reflect a core principle: Each person finds his/her connection to God in different ways. Congregations need to find a balance between the whole and the individual. I don't, I confess, like sitting in services from 10-12:30 Honestly instead of connecting me it bores me…for the most part.
However, the 9-10 learning experience mattered. Shouldn't there be space for the guy who likes sitting 10-12:30 and the lady who gets her religious high in one hour?

When we left I called the congregation’s office to let them know we wouldn't be sending our check. Ok, you are always welcome to come back. And that was the end of that.  Really?

I was there for 20 years…at Hanukah we got a Xeroxed copy of a note from the clergy wishing us a happy Chanukah.

I wonder if there could have been another ending? What is the ritual that congregations use when folks walk? Would it make sense for someone in the congregation to come visit us? “I'd like to hear your story? We still will see you as part of the community. Are there ways that we can help you connect to other Jewish organizations? We will still send you yahrzeit info and other events. You will always be a member of our community…it will look different now but we are here for you. How can we support you on your next leg of your journey? Your story will remain with us and we are here for you” Or something right? Could they reinvent membership…like ok you don't pay 3000 dollars, but we are still connected to you.

Who is paying attention to the life stories of congregants?

What makes it hard for a congregation to allow the space for multiple entry points?

Where am I writing this blog? I'm sitting in the Apple Store in Suburban Square. Someone borrowed my power cord by accident and I have no power in my computer.

Do you think I could sit here and just charge my battery?"

The salesman said, "sit here and if you need anything just ask".

I just looked up and the lady in the blue shirt who is supposed to be selling stuff just smiled at me.

Really? Hello synagogues, what's it look like to make room for someone to sit for what they need, not just what you need.

Cyd Weissman is the Director, Innovation in Congregational Learning for Greater New York, for The Jewish Education Project where she leads a team to support the creation of Jewish learning environments that positively nurture the lives of learners. She blogs at LivingLomed.

 

This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.

 

11 Ways to Reach the Unengaged

All of us in Jewish life are wondering how to reach the unengaged–and particularly young adults. At NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation, we work with both mainstream and grassroots organizations, including many synagogues, to help them find new ways to connect with Birthright Israel alumni and their friends. While I do this work professionally, I’m also part of the demographic we’re trying to reach. Here, I’m offering eleven ways that synagogues can connect to the unengaged:

  1. Lead with your “Why?” Most of us market what we do– the products or services we offer–  instead of why we do it– the worldview, or passion driving us.  It’s not enough to say what you offer, you must lead with your mission in all things. How does Judaism and Jewish community provide value for young adults, or for that matter, for the world?  How does your spiritual community offer access to these ideas and a platform for building these relationships?
  2. Relationships > Membership. Young adults get our positive social reinforcement through relationships, not through our membership.  Think about how people come to be in relationship to your congregants, staff, and content.  Where do those relationships form? Who is responsible for them? And how are you following up with people? A rabbi who takes meetings in a coffee shop will seem a lot more approachable than one stuck in her/his office. Do you have a welcoming team who can commit to setting up one coffee date a week with someone new to the community and do follow-up? 
  3. Content matters. You aren’t competing with other synagogues, you are competing against bars, restaurants, concerts, movies, and television. Your value-add is depth and meaning, so don’t shy away from it, don’t water it down, and don’t infantilize.
  4. Take your show on the road. Young adults are far more likely to be living in the dense urban core of your city. If your building isn’t where the young people live, bring your services (metaphorically and literally) to them.  Many emerging spiritual communities take advantage of galleries, living rooms, coffee shops, and other unconventional and yet, accessible venues. What they lack in grandeur or pomp, they more than make up for in warmth and intimacy. 
  5. You have two ears and one mouth. Listen more than you talk. Are there young adults who are children of congregants, who might be willing to come in for an evening? Hold a focus group and buy them dinner, or take someone who just moved to town out for coffee. Understand what needs they have that a synagogue/spiritual community might be able to deliver.  Then, help them create it. 
  6. Put your money where your mouth is. As in much of the Jewish nonprofit sector, synagogues talk about young adult engagement, but find it more challenging to actually invest in it. Designate a point person who has the bandwidth, resources, authority, and autonomy to actually engage. If you don’t invest in young adults, and give them real opportunities to learn, lead, and live Jewishly, they will find other things to do with their time.  Give young adults a chance to speak from the bima, to participate in discussion, and to organize events, but don’t force them onto a board or a committee.
  7. Be open, welcoming, inclusive, and genuine. We Jewish young adults are from more diverse backgrounds than ever. We are LGBTQ, we are from families with two, or one, or no Jewish parents, we don’t understand movements or denominations in the same way our parents did, and we might not know any Hebrew or melodies.
  8. Understand who is it you want to connect to. Do you really want to connect to young adults who are probably not making a lot of money? Or are you really looking for young families? Be honest about who you want to reach and why.  Young adult programming shouldn’t be targeting young families; the two are at different life stages and won’t relate as well to each other.  Have you thought about empty nesters, who used to be members but don’t come anymore now that their children are out of the house? Maybe you should reach out to them–they are a lot less fickle than young adults!
  9. Recognize your assets. Are you hiring a lot of part-time Sunday school, Hebrew school, or b’nei mitzvah teachers? Look to hire from the local student or young adult pool.  You probably pay more an hour than most of us are used to, we are more accessible role models for your students, and you can organize educational and social events for this cohort of young adults you’ve just recruited to come to your space.
  10. A rising tide floats all ships. Recognizing that you're not alone in your challenges is important, but more important is adopting a collaborative mindset. How are you working with the other organizations who also want to invest in young adults? Can you pool resources to multiply impact? Work with your local Moishe House, federation Young Leadership Division, or whoever is available to provide your rabbinic expertise towards their programmatic goals.
  11. Social media is a multiplier, not a savior. Social media can amplify the great things that you are already doing, but it only works if the people that believe you are doing great things share those things. 

Yoni Sarason is the Midwest Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. For ideas about how to implement some of these ideas in your community, you can reach Yoni at yoni@birthrightisraelnext.org.

 

This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.

Three Legs of the Connected Congregation Stool

Connected Congregations are synagogues that function as communities in the deepest sense of the word.  They are not about the building, the events, the rabbi.  At least not alone. They are about a group of individuals and families with shared values, practice and goals, who feel a sense of sacred obligation to one another.  It FEELS GOOD to be part of a community like this.

As we've been researching connected congregations, working in networks, being a network weaver, and organizational change, we've learned that becoming a connected congregation is more than a new way of developing programs.  It's more than helping people get to know each other better (and deeper) — though that's important too.

Becoming a connected congregation really means reprogramming your synagogue's DNA.  Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways.  We've boiled this down to three main categories. Within each category are several main levers of change that you'll need to examine:  staffing and communications.  More on that below.

  • Programs. This may seem like the most obvious one, but it's really quite profound.  People come to programs as much (or more so) for the people than for the content of the program.  It's true.  Studies confirm it.  So, even if the content is a strong driver of our mission and goals as a congregation, let's design for the social value.  How can you maximize social connection before the event?  Facebook events allow folks to see who else might be going, for example.  Or social content that participants will want to share through their own networks. How can you maximize the social connections during the event?  And how do you share back with the community about the event afterwards?  What is the role of a "program director"?  How does this person incorporate network weaving into their job, or as a primary function of their job?  In the recent Vision and Data Report from UJA Federation of New York, one congregation reflected on how a small adjustment in programming made an important difference:

“We had tried social programming in the past but never got the turnout we hoped for, which led us to conclude (wrongly) that people did not want to make social connections through the Religious School. Measuring Success helped us develop a targeted follow-up survey to probe deeper about social connections. That led to an “aha moment” when we learned that people do want to make social connections, they just do not want us to add new events to their calendars. When we realized that, we took steps to build socializing and community-building into existing events.”  —Barri Waltcher, Vice President and Chair of Religious School Committee, Temple Shaaray Tefila

  • Finances.  If you've read The Networked Nonprofit or been on our Network Nonprofit webinars, you heard us use the metaphors of a fortress and a sea sponge.  They represent the poles of a continuum, where on the one end there are big, tall, exclusive fortress walls, and on the other end, the networked organization that needs a constant flow of nutrients, is open and porous, and live in symbiosis with other organisms.  Look at the financial model of your synagogue through that lens.  Dues and membership are one major component (see here and here for examples of synagogues that have done away with dues as we know it), but there are others.  Temple Beth Abraham questioned whether their offer of reduced dues stepped from a place of loving kindness, or as the local IRS (see case study here).  Too often our synagogues become places of "transactional Judaism", which ultimately doesn't benefit the individual, the synagogue or Jewish life.
  • Governance. Clearly governing policy and culture is critical as a connected congregation.  It's also a key part of how you become a connected congregation.  For example, a current synagogue president may be very interested and committed to this idea, but if the next 2-3 synagogue presidents are not also on board, the effort may lose momentum.  Measurement is also an important consideration.  How does the congregation understand its mission, and how does it measure its work to achieve those goals? Aligning mission and goals with metrics, data collection and analysis will help leaders clearly appreciate where they are making process towards being a connected congregation, and where further refinement or effort is needed.

Underlying all three of these areas are questions of staffing and communications.  Where do you need staff capacity and expertise?  Where are staff 'over-functioning' in a way that might in fact be disempowering members of your community?  Where is expertise highly valued or needed?  How might you adjust current job descriptions and/or titles to reflect the real need as culture, programs and the need for expertise shift?

And finally, recognize that in today's connected, fast paced world, communication is essential.  The right tools, applications, voice and regularity of communications will grease the gears of all the change and process in program, finance and governance.  Openness and transparency earns trust, and accessibility builds relationships that are the foundation of eveything else.

Where are you experimenting with change around programs, finance and governance? Are there other categories you'd like to add to the list?

The Former Congregant

Originally published on Jewish Connectivity

I recently learned the phrase “the former audience,” a term used to describe people who react to and act in a story as it unfolds rather than observing it. People today are empowered. “We did it!” Dora the Explorer sings from my TV to my preschool kids. (Talk about a “former audience”– now you have to talk to the TV instead of just watch it!) Today we can organize with like-minded individuals for a few minutes or many years, in person or online. We can raise money for our own causes and communicate with massive amounts of people through extensive networks.

Might leaders of synagogues think about “the former congregant”? As my colleague Rabbi Arnie Samlan points out, people don’t want to only receive services any more. They want to be a part of something bigger and take an active role in determining its direction.

Here’s my start at a chart comparing the former congregant of today to the congregant of generations:

There are two crucial reactions for today’s Jewish leaders given this reality.

  1. Figure out what your organization’s added value is. What do you have to offer that “former congregants” can’t do or find themselves? This can be anything from quality conversational Hebrew instruction in a community of friends to ongoing opportunities to make a meaningful contribution to the local community. It can be spiritually uplifting worship or a place that stands for counter-cultural values. Decide why people would need or want to be a part of your organization, and do that well.
  2. Share. Adopt a generous attitude towards resources, partnership, information and leadership. Holding your cards close to your chest is a sure way to find yourself alone at the table while the rest of the gang has left to join a pick up game of basketball. Instead, practice “open source Judaism.” Allow leaders to emerge, help them to implement their ideas and bring together their networks.

Yesterday’s congregants have changed. Today’s congregations have to.

Wendy Grinberg is the founder and director of the Jewish Education Lab and clinical faculty at HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education. You can contact her at grinbergconsulting@gmail.com.

This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.